Teams that want to be contenders have to find ways to win, even when it's ugly; even when all momentum seems to be going against them; even when they're behind.
The Cowboys again proved they are contenders.
After struggling through most of the second and third quarters, the Cowboys righted the ship, found their offense when they needed to and came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth frame to defeat the rival Philadelphia Eagles, 29-23, in overtime and send a sold-out crowd of 93,103 home happy.
But again, it wasn't always pretty, as for really the first time in his young career Dak Prescott struggled. Coming into this primetime showdown, the rookie quarterback had been nothing short of phenomenal, putting up a 103.9 passer rating while completing 68.7 percent of his attempts.
He had to grind in this one, as he was just off for most of the night, missing throws early, tossing one interception in the end zone and almost another. He even fumbled once, although he was able to recover it himself.
But in the end he was able to take command, make the plays he had to and bring his team back. He finished with 287 passing yards, completing 48.7 percent of his attempts with two huge touchdown throws – one in the fourth quarter and the winner in overtime. He also ran for the team's first score.
Of course, he wasn't alone. Ezekiel Elliott was again a workhorse. In fact, some of the Cowboys struggles in the middle portions of the game came when they seemingly went away from the rookie running back. He produced 40 yards on just six carries and hauled in two passes for 35 more in the first quarter alone, but then over the next two quarters he carried the ball just seven times combined for 24 yards with only one catch for 7 yards.
In overtime, he carried the ball five times, which included a big 12-yard gain down to the Philadelphia 14-yard line. He finished just short of the century mark, totaling 96 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Also chipping in was Dez Bryant, who was back in the lineup after missing an extended stretch due to a knee injury. He finished with 113 receiving yards off of four catches and hauled in the game-tying score.
And once again, the defense did its part. The unit had its struggles at times, but when it was all said and done, they held the Eagles to only 291 total yards and the 23 points. Prescott's rookie counterpart on the other side, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz finished with only 202 yards on 32-of-43 passing, most of which consisted of short dinks and dunks.
There will be some concern, though, as both Barry Church and Morris Claiborne left the game with injuries. More on their status will be known after additional tests tomorrow.
The game couldn't have started much worse for the Cowboys. Lucky Whitehead ill-advisedly brought the ball out of the end zone on the opening kickoff, then proceeded to have the ball knocked loose, the fumble fortunately falling back into his arms.
But that put the Dallas on its own 10-yard line and for only the second time in seven games this season, they failed to put up points on their opening possession.
Unlike Philadelphia, who managed to get a 30-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis on its opening drive. Of course, they were helped when, after the Cowboys were able to stop them on third-and-1, Dallas' special teams unit then got flagged for too many men on the field, which kept the Eagles' drive alive.
After that, though, the Cowboys seemed to turn things around, as they then reeled off 10 answered points. On its next series, Prescott went deep to Dez Bryant down the right sideline for a 53-yard gain, the quarterback's longest completion of the season. Three plays later, Prescott capped the drive by faking a handoff up the middle to Elliott and then scampering untouched off left tackle himself to get Dallas in the end zone.
The Cowboys then added a 38-yard field goal on its next possession and seemed to have momentum firmly in hand.
But once again, special teams play put the Cowboys behind the 8-ball. Whitehead this time fielded a punt at his own 3-yard line and on the ensuing 7-yard return the unit was called for offensive holding, Dallas again starting deep in its own end.
[embeddedad0]And when the Cowboys couldn't move the chains, the following punt gave the Eagles possession at the Dallas 45-yard line. Granted the short field, and helped along by a defensive holding penalty by the Cowboys, the visitors were soon in the end zone to tie the score, 10-10.
Things, however, continued to unravel for the home side. They were able to grind their way down the field on Philadelphia, but on first-and-goal at the 7-yard line, the Cowboys called two consecutive pass plays, the second of which was picked off in the end zone by Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks.
The 1:26 left on the clock was all Philadelphia needed to get in field goal range for Sturgis, his 55-yard kick as time expired giving the Eagles a 13-10 advantage at the half.
That pendulum swing remained firmly on the Eagles when on their second possession of the third quarter, they found the end zone again. This time it was Wentz throwing to wide receiver Jordan Matthews from 5 yards out to up the Philly advantage to 20-10.
The Cowboys seemingly found their spark again when on fourth-and-8 on their own 27-yard line punter Chris Jones took off around the left end for a big 30-yard gain, a gutsy call that deep in their own zone. That led to an eventual 23-yard field goal from Bailey, but even that was somewhat bittersweet because Prescott missed Bryant on a poorly thrown ball in the end zone, the team missing out on a touchdown.
And when the special teams group then gave up a 53-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, which led to a 34-yard Eagles field goal, the momentum was once again on Philadelphia's side, the visitors now up 23-13 in the fourth quarter.
But momentum is a funny thing. Whether you believe in it or not, as the clock continued to tick in the final frame, that touchy pendulum began its swing back the other way.
It started when Terrell McClain knocked the ball free from Philly running back Wendell Smallwood and Tyrone Crawford pounced on it at the Eagles' 36-yard line. The Cowboys were unable to move the chains and so had to settle for another Bailey field goal, but they narrowed the gap to 23-16 with still more than 11 minutes remaining in the game.
By the time the clock hit 3:11 in the fourth, Dallas had it tied. Starting at their own 10-yard line, the Cowboys marched the 90 yards in 11 plays, as Prescott finally started spreading the ball around. After not catching a ball all night Cole Beasley hauled two for 22 yards, and Brice Butler recorded his first reception with a 19-yarder.
But it would be Bryant who got the end zone honors with a nice 22-yard catch over the defender to send the crowd into a frenzy, the score now tied 23-23 where it would remain, sending the game into overtime.
The extra frame wouldn't last long. After winning the coin flip, Dallas started at its own 25-yard line and proceeded to go the distance in 12 plays, the biggest a fourth-and-1 call to go for it at the Philadelphia 28.
The final heroics came when Prescott evaded pressure in the pocket, rolled out to his left and then found a wide open Jason Witten in the end zone for the game-winning score, 29-23. Fitting as on this same night the future Hall of Fame tight end was making his 204th consecutive start, passing Ed "Too Tall" Jones for the most in team history.
With the victory, the Cowboys are now firmly in command of the NFC East, holding a 6-1 record and the tiebreaker advantage against the 4-3 Eagles, who are in second. Dallas will head to Cleveland to take on the Browns next Sunday in a noon game.
Take a look at some of our favorite photos from the Sunday Night Football game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 30.